The majority of the subscribers I have on my YouTube channel subscribed because of my Warhammer Online (WAR) videos. People frequently ask if / when I will come back to WAR. The answer is never, because of reasons beyond WAR itself.
EA is shifting its focus in online gaming to the social gaming sector with its acquisition of Playfish in late 2009. Around the time of the acquisition, EA laid off 40% of the staff at Mythic Entertainment, the studio that created WAR. Those layoffs have obvious implications in terms of what Mythic can do with WAR moving forward. Fewer resources = less new game content and game improvements.
It’s a shame, because WAR has gradually improved as a game, and some players think that if it had launched in its current state, WAR would have been a success instead of a colossal failure. I shared that viewpoint when I played WAR’s excellent Patch 1.3b over the summer.
That being said, I don’t think that the EA/Mythic/Playfish case is an isolated incident that had its roots strictly in the failure of WAR as a game. Rather, it’s an indicator of the shift in the online gaming industry towards social gaming. Social gaming has been experiencing wildfire growth because of potent, synergistic drivers:
- the cost to launch, maintain, and evolve social games is (relatively) low
- social game developers leverage analytics to customize games very quickly based on what users are actually doing. It’s a very “Agile” approach to game development – instead of massive investment up-front, you start with something and evolve it based on user behavior and feedback
- social gaming has a huge and growing potential player base (thanks to Facebook), and the corresponding strong viral network effects
- social games have user-friendly (i.e. simple) game mechanics. Social games in the online gaming market is analogous to the Wii in the console market – anyone can play them, and that’s how they suck you in
Contrast that with MMORPGs, which have traditionally cost a lot of money (e.g. tens of millions of US dollars) to develop and launch and have a (relatively) steep learning curve for players.
A guy I know, who was the CEO of the company that launched a best-selling console game, told me he thinks the console gaming sector is in jeopardy. Social gaming is where it’s at, from a business perspective. And I think that the MMORPG sector, as we currently think of it (WoW, Aion, Eve Online, etc), may be in trouble for the same reason, over the medium- to long-term.
I’m a fan of traditional MMORPGs, because they provide the kind of rich and complex environment that I find challenging – especially in terms of PVP. So I hope that the market for traditional MMORPGs continues to grow, to sustain the economic drivers which enable game development and evolution. If MMORPGs become a niche market over time, there will be fewer options for us to choose from.